There’s something about a good old fashioned ghost story. Creepy, atmospheric and filled with memorable imagery, The Child Remains is a great example of a simple story, told well.
Things get off to a suitably uncomfortable start with a flashback set in 1973. The setting is the Mercy home for unwed mothers and there are strange events afoot. A pregnant woman named Faith (Lesley Smith) has been tied to a bed while a woman in a black shroud performs an invasive medical procedure against her will. It doesn’t end well: Faith is poisoned and dies and the baby is buried alive in a small coffin in the woods behind the house.
This prologue immediately establishes the film as a female-centric tale. Faith’s character is defined by her impending motherhood and the idea of helpless babies being killed is deeply distressing (writer/director Michael Melski sharpens the knife even more with a close up of the infant’s face as the tiny coffin lid closely).
Like most ghost stories, The Child Remains is obsessed with the past and the inability to keep secrets buried (in this case literally). The present day narrative involves Rae (Suzanne Clément) a former crime journalist recovering from work-related PTSD, and her husband Liam (Allan Hawco), a struggling musician. They arrive at the renamed Mersey Inn for a long weekend to celebrate Rae’s birthday in a trigger-free setting, only to discover that the sins of both the building and their marriage are in danger of being unearthed.
As Rae, Clément projects vulnerability, but also intelligence and fierceness. She is undoubtedly troubled but she refuses to back down when she uncovers the hidden history of the Mersey.
Liam, by comparison, starts the film as a sympathetic but exhausted husband and undergoes a dramatic transformation over the three days (captured ably by the title cards). It’s undeniable that homey innkeeper Monica (Shelley Thompson) is the film’s villain, filled with good housekeeping manners and folksy colloquialisms, but Liam is the secret monster of the piece.
This makes sense given the film’s female-centric focus, which essentially pits two strong-willed women against each other in a battle of wills and desire. Men in this world are disposable servants and the moment that they conflict with women’s agency, their usefulness comes to an end.
If The Child Remains has one flaw, it is that the film’s central mystery is fairly straightforward and easy to predict, which makes the nearly two hour runtime a little gruelling. Thankfully the film has a great visual aesthetic, particularly the look of the creepy woods and the props that populate the inn’s various rooms (so.many.creepy.wooden.marionettes). Coupled with a great, committed performances, The Child Remains is well worth a watch for lovers of spooky ghost stories.
The Child Remains had its Toronto premiere at the 2017 BLOOD IN THE SNOW film festival, which ran from November 23 – November 26.